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Senate Government Operations Testimony on S.39

Today, I was invited to testify in the Senate Government Operations Committee on S.39. I want to thank Senator Ruth Hardy, Chair of the "Gov Ops Committee" for giving me the opportunity to share my story. My testimony can be read below. You can also view the YouTube video of the testimony below. My portion begins at the the 45:55 minute mark.

Good afternoon.

Thank you for having me here to speak with your committee today. For those of you who I have not met yet I’m Ashley Bartley. I represent the new Franklin- 1 Fairfax and Georgia District. I am a young mother and a freshman legislator, and for the last three and a half was the Director of Human Resources and Operations for a property management company and a week into the session, I lost my employment due to my service here in Montpelier.

I first decided I wanted to run for office in the delivery room in January of 2022. My beautiful daughter, Reagan Bartley, came three weeks early. Our house wasn’t ready, we still had furniture to construct; but my husband and I had no choice but to adapt and bring into the world an amazing, baby girl (I’m obviously very biased).

It was, I think, eight hours into birth, that I turned to my husband and asked how he would feel if I ran for the Vermont House of Representatives. His response, which pains me to say was the correct one; “let’s get through the next 72 hours before we talk.”

He was right. A week later, I brought up the idea of a run for office again with my husband who had two things to say:

The first was to make sure this is what you want to do and understand the commitment. Don’t run if you don’t leave it all on the field. Leaving it on the field has been our family's motto for as long as I can remember.

The second comment he made was that I needed to make sure my employer would support me, should I win my election. We couldn’t and can’t survive with just one income.

I had been fortunate enough to take a short 6 week maternity leave although I continued to work remotely through those six weeks, even answering an emergency call at 2am while in the hospital with my daughter. I returned from my maternity leave in March of 2022. I met with my direct boss, the owner of the company, and broached the subject of running for office. I had explained the responsibilities and time commitment involved with serving in the legislature. He couldn’t have been more supportive. In fact, early on he offered to donate to my campaign, asked to make sure he was on our digital and snail-mail lists, and every time he was in the office, he asked how the campaign was going. Had I not received such overwhelming support from my boss and the company, I would not have pursued office as my husband and I agreed.

Since I had returned from my maternity leave where I worked remotely the owner of the company and I reached an agreement that I would work in the office on mondays and work remotely for remaining four days of the week when the legislature was in session. At the time my boss had even said that I had proved I could work remotely, it was for this reason that I did not feel any need to give written notice of leave to protect my job under the current statute, as I wasn’t taking a leave…I would be working remotely.

Flash forward to November. I won my race for the Vermont House of Representatives. I’m in the process of preparing to work remotely that my employer does an “about face,” claims ignorance of the legislative process (went so far as to say he thought we just drove down to vote and then drove right back) and he denies understanding what the commitment was when I first approached him.

Then one week after I am sworn into office, I start to receive emails from my employer that became not just hostile in nature, but demeaning, condescending, and sexist.

Despite my, working nights and weekends, completing all job responsibilities; the owner questioned my dedication to the company, my ability to do my job, and whether I had the proper authority to delegate basic administrative tasks to someone who reported to me. It very quickly became clear that the problem wasn’t with my job performance but with my not being physically present in the office, even though all work was being completed. The owner suggested moving me from a salaried position to an hourly position, only compensating me for time in the office or “actually” doing work, but not for my time responding to emails, calls, etc. while in Montpelier. At the time I was a full-time salary exempt status

To be completely honest, I was blindsided. Not only was I upholding my end of the agreement to continue to my responsibilities while in session, I was working over 40 hours a week and knew that with a transition to hourly I would not be paid overtime and that these hours would be untrackable. The shear logistical nightmare of tracking emails, phone calls, all work, regardless of day or night, was unfathomable; especially at an hourly rate.

If the COVID shutdown taught us anything in the human resources industry was that employees not only could adjust to working remotely but could even flourish. I had, in my bosses own words, proved my ability to work remotely and yet we were regressing to a time pre-covid. It just didn’t make sense.

After a lengthy exchange, it was clear our working relationship was severed. I asked for a severance proposal as I felt it was best for the company and myself -- and despite our company giving multiple severance packages over the years, which I would know as I was the one to execute them; the idea was rejected and was told that the company did not offer severance.

The last communication I received was via email, not even a phone conversation was:

“ You have rejected that offer, and in doing so you have resigned from employment with “The company” effective immediately.”

There was no resignation on my part. I had wanted continue my employment for this company as had been the agreement. While my former employer may have suggested I resigned, there is no mistake -- what he did was nothing short of Constructive Discharge. Those last few weeks were made so unbearable I had no choice but to not accept the offer to move to hourly. It was unfathomable to me how the proposal could possibly work.

That is why I am here before you today.

In the last two bienniums, at least six legislators have had to resign from the Legislature due to employment concerns. This is unacceptable if we are to provide a voice for working families, young families, and those without means to serve in Montpelier. We cannot allow the body that is honored to walk these halls to be reserved to those with financial means, retired, or with some extenuating circumstances that allow them to pay their bills.

Vermont’s working families deserve a voice which is one of the reason I ran for office. If Vermont is truly going to make the state an affordable place to live, a reasonable place to do business, or a safe place to raise a family -- those who are living the struggles of day to day life need a voice.

There is no question in my mind, Government -- Montpelier -- is at its best when there are voices from diverse opinions. No business, non-profit, or family unit can survive with the notion that one person’s ideals supersede the other. Conversations must be the foundation of any relationship.

Conversations breed both concessions and agreement.

No single idea, party, business, concept, or family ideals are one hundred percent correct. I sit before you testifying on my experiences, and desire to push the discussion beyond conceptual -- how does Montpelier best represent all of Vermont and all its dynamics, demographics, and opinions?

Where is the Vermont working class? The answer is simple: not as strong as it should be in Montpelier. Fighting for the Vermont working class isn’t a partisan issue. It’s not a Democrat or Republican issue; it impacts us all. We may disagree how to get there, but we agree we must get somewhere.

My experience has inspired me to introduce my own draft bill that will revisit the legislative leave statue and hopefully provide more protections to legislators. I would love to discuss this and my ideas further if you have any questions. I am happy to give you my contact information. I want to thank you for taking the time this afternoon and listening to my story.

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